A bomb blast in the Turkish capital of Ankara on Wednesday—which killed dozens of people and injured scores of others—arrived alongside increasing global worries about how Turkey is responding to shifting developments on the other side of its border with Syria where a brutal civil war and international fight against the Islamic State continues.
Over the recent days and weeks, the Syrian armed forces of President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russian airstrikes and the Syrian Kurdish milita known as the YPG, have closed off vital supply routes of ISIS and opposition fighters while capturing long-held territory near the strategically-situated town of Azaz and the rebel stronghold of Aleppo in northwestern Syria.
As Reuters reports:
Russian bombing has transformed the five-year-old Syrian civil war in recent weeks, turning the momentum decisively in favor of Moscow’s ally President Bashar al-Assad.
The Syrian army has come within 25 km (15 miles) of the Turkish border and says it aims to seal it off altogether, closing the main lifeline into rebel territory for years and recapturing Aleppo, Syria’s largest city before the war.
Meanwhile, the YPG has exploited the situation, seizing ground from other Syrian opposition groups in the area.
Turkey has responded to those advances over the weekend by shelling YPG positions inside Syria and openly talking about a ground incursion alongside forces from Saudi Arabia. On Wednesday, Ankara elevated its call for a no-conflict “buffer zone”—one that would extend 10-kilometers (6 miles) from the Turkish border into Syria—as a way to insulate some of those Syrian rebel groups it views as “moderate” allies but which experts have repeatedly pointed out have ties to the Al-Nusra Front, which is the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria.
“What we want is to create a secure strip, including Azaz, 10 km deep inside Syria and this zone should be free from clashes,” said Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan in a television interview.
That plan, however, is in direct opposition to Assad’s stated plan which is to recapture Aleppo and all the surrounding territory in order to cut off the flow of people, weapons, and supplies that it says are funneled over the border from Turkey. As Reuters notes, such a development “would be the government’s biggest victories of the war so far and probably end rebel hopes of overthrowing al-Assad by force, their objective since 2011 with the encouragement of the West, Arab states and Turkey.”